We meet at a party. We notice each other and amble over and say the usual niceties and note the immediate connection. This matters. We start conversing. That is when we really start. We start with all that incessant chatter. We hardly ever pause for breath. We don’t need to breathe, we only need to share and talk. And so we do. We talk and giggle and then we talk some more and burst into genuine laughter. We argue. We engage. Our eyes light up as we willingly share thoughts and ideas and amusing anecdotes.
The arrival of the waiter in the café appears to be inconvenient. We shun other people at the parties we attend. We do not take kindly to interruptions. We spend every moment apart glued to our phones. We talk and write and chat. This will never end, we think to ourselves, we will never run out of things to say to one another. We smile with that peculiar smug certainty one occasionally feels, when everything about us seems destined.
And then, one day, completely unexpectedly, our delightful duo becomes a trio. Silence enters our conversation. At first, she’s an awkward hesitation. We’re telling stories about our childhoods and suddenly we stumble over an unhappy memory. Is this something we can say out loud? Can we allow someone past our personal walls? We look down at the steaming coffee cup before us. We frown. Eventually, tentatively, we forces ourselves to speak. The frantic mania steadily disappears. There’s a calm certainty attached to our conversations now. We manage to gently nudge the silence away.
Silence stays close, though, lurking in the shadows of the restaurant, the garden, the lounge. Peeping in on us every now and then. We get used to her presence. It’s almost comforting at times. We allow Silence to come closer. She is no longer unwanted. She is necessary. She jauntily swings her legs, perched atop the kitchen counter, as we bustle about making dinner.
She nestles in between us as we lie in bed watching “just one more episode”. She stretches out on the backseat of the car on drives home after a night out. We grow fond of her snug embrace. There’s a contentment in our silences. The smugness underlying our smiles evolves a little. We don’t even need to say anything to each other anymore, we think, as if this is some sort of hard-earned achievement.
But slowly, the silences get louder. They are spurred on by heated words. They are charged with emotion. Silence sits beside us on the couch as we stare insistently at the television and not at each other. The silences can be brought on by anything, now. To avoid the angry silences, we find omissions start to seep into our conversations. We no longer share each and every one of our banal thoughts. We censor ourselves. We take time to respond to texts. It takes us a long time to painfully construct them.
There is more to be learned from all that is unsaid than from our polite exchanges of words. Suddenly, there are things we choose leave unmentioned. We forget to tell each other our after-work plans. We don’t want to risk joining one another’s. We don’t bother letting each other know when we get home. A deep uneasiness descends upon us: we’re unashamedly unnerved by these prolonged silences. There’s only one way to defeat this rut, we decide. We purposefully fill every moment with forced, cluttered chatter. That, of course, makes our omissions all the more pronounced. Silence, so recently considered a close friend, becomes relegated to every corner in the house. Still, she tramps after us doggedly, heavily, resentfully. Unhappily.
We dash from one another to escape Silence’s tight hold on us. We talk to family, friends, strangers. We talk to anyone else. Then, a funny thing happens. ‘We’ simply disappear. You’re at a party and you’re talking to someone new. You hardly ever pause for breath. You don’t need to breathe anymore, you only need to share and talk. And so you do. You talk and giggle and then you talk some more and you burst into genuine laughter that seems to come straight from your belly. Your eyes light up. You grin.
That’s the day the silence stops causing dismay. You’re no longer fumbling for words. You’re no longer dwelling on omissions. You’re no longer lost, staring at your phone, attempting to craft an appropriate response. You’re no longer sitting at breakfast, searching each other’s faces for a clue as to what one might say. There is no longer pain in your silence. There is only hollow emptiness.
We remember and preserve the words we spoke to one another, but we forget the silences.
But it was in the silences that we fell in and out of love.